Daily Israel Report

Tunisian Parties Choose Leader for Interim Government

Tunisia's political parties choose Industry Minister Mehdi Jomaa to head an interim government of independent figures.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 12/15/2013, 6:19 AM

Mehdi Jomaa
Mehdi Jomaa
Reuters

Tunisia's political parties have chosen Industry Minister Mehdi Jomaa to head a government of independent figures aimed at pulling the country out of a months-long crisis, the principal mediator said Saturday, according to AFP.

"Dialogue and discussions led to a vote and the choice of Mehdi Jomaa as the candidate for the post of head of government," Houcine Abassi, secretary general of the powerful UGTT trade union, was quoted as having said.

"Our people have waited for a long time, but despite the difficulties and obstacles... this dialogue has not failed," he said, adding his "congratulations to Tunisia."

Of the 21 parties participating in the talks, only the Nidaa Tounes party rejected the choice and abstained in the vote, reported AFP.

According to a deal clinched between Tunisia's main parties in October, the new premier has 15 days to form his new government of independents.

He also faces the weighty task of organizing elections in 2014.

Jomaa, a relative unknown, is a 51-year-old engineer with no stated political affiliation. He is married and has five children.

He graduated from the National Engineering School of Tunis in 1988 before taking a higher degree in mechanics, his official biography published in March by state news agency TAP said.

He then went on to a career in the private sector, and headed a division of Hutchinson, the aerospace unit of French conglomerate Total.

He became industry minister following the formation in March of a new government by Ali Larayedh in the crisis that erupted following the assassination a month earlier of key opposition figure Chokri Belaid.

Since then, Jomaa has stayed aloof from the country's political jockeying and focused on his portfolio. In particular, he has lobbied European firms to invest in the country, plagued by economic woes since the ouster nearly three years ago of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Jomaa was chosen a day after the candidate agreed on by the outgoing Islamist-led government and the mostly secular opposition, 92-year-old Mustapha Filali, ruled himself out due to his age.

Two years ago, Tunisians elected the moderate Islamist Ennahda party in the country's first free and competitive elections. It formed a government in alliance with two secular parties.

Tunisia has been roiled by social unrest and political crises ever since, the latest sparked by the murder in July of another opposition politician, Mohamed Brahmi, which triggered calls for the resignation of the coalition government.

Under the roadmap brokered by mediators in October, Ennahda and the opposition pledged to negotiate an interim government of independents.

The interim premier should have been agreed on by early November, but the deadline has been pushed back repeatedly since then.